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Obamacare Credited For Big Drop In Minnesota’s Uninsured Rate

WebMD News from Kaiser Health News

By Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio

Mon, Jun 16 2014

The website malfunctioned. The exchange chief was fired. And many people had to sign up the old fashioned way: pen, paper, with a person. So, Minnesota’s launch of the Affordable Care Act was a clear failure, right? Not so much.

A less modest state might call it the Minnesota Miracle: The rate of uninsured people in Minnesota tumbled to less than 5 percent, despite all the problems with its Obamacare website, a new study shows.

How did Minnesota do it? It wasn’t miraculous. The state started out ahead with a rate of uninsurance roughly half the national average. Then it used the health law to strengthen and publicize a health care safety net that was already more complete and generous than most other states.

The number of uninsured Minnesotans fell by nearly 41 percent since September and the rate of uninsurance in the state fell from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent, according to the study from the University of Minnesota’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center. The university crunched the numbers at the request of MNsure, the state’s troubled health insurance marketplace. “This is a pretty historic change in insurance coverage in Minnesota,” said Julie Sonier, the report’s lead researcher. “We have never seen anything like the change that we have seen between last fall and May 1st of this year.”

Some 180,500 people gained health insurance, mainly through enrollments in the state’s two government-sponsored programs for the poor: Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare. Here are the details on those two programs:

– Medical Assistance is the state’s Medicaid program. It covers people who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or $15,500 for a single person this year.

–  MinnesotaCare is a program that predates the health law. It is funded by a state tax on Minnesota hospitals and health care providers, federal Medicaid funds and enrollee premiums. Under the health law, the state adapted MinnesotaCare to be a “basic health plan,” a new category that only Minnesota set up. People qualify if they make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $22,980 for a single person this year. Congress offered this option to help people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford the out-of-pocket costs of a commercial health plan, even with the benefit of federal subsidies.

Before the health law went into effect, about two-thirds of uninsured Minnesotans qualified for one of these two public health programs but hadn’t signed up. The federal law’s combination of a mandate to buy insurance and funding for outreach and navigators likely boosted enrollment in the two programs.

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